Know thy job applicant!
Recruiters go out of their way to gather information about job applicants beyond their jobseeker personas. The most obvious way to learn about them would be from their former line managers’ or colleagues’ references, which give the prospective employer an idea of how the candidate works within a team – whether they tend to be reconcilers or troublemakers, learn from criticism or resent it, embrace change or dread it, get ready ahead of schedule or well behind it.
References from previous employers, however, are not fit-for-the purpose for a couple of reasons. First of all, both chasing and writing them are time-consuming exercises, and – unlike the prospective new employer – the former employer doesn’t have a vested interest in providing one. Moreover, some employers have to comply with the basic reference policy of their company and aren’t licensed to provide any information on the candidate beyond employment dates and job roles.
Although the costs of repeating the recruitment procedure if a new employee underwhelms are well-known, HR departments often adopt a frugal approach to getting references – even if it would be money well spent. Carefully designed, GDPR-compliant questionnaires completed by former co-workers can provide a treasure-trove of relevant information about the candidate, especially if it’s completed by more than two referees (recruitment specialists recommend requesting five to seven references for senior roles).
What can turn references into an even more powerful recruitment tool is timing. Thanks to the cost-saving mindset mentioned above, references are typically provided following the job interview. After a successful interview, by that time – more often than not – the halo effect has kicked in and the references serve only as a confirmation of a decision that’s already done and dusted. Therefore, any disconcerting details from former employers at this stage are likely to be overlooked. Bringing reference checks forward in the selection process may give more weight to their findings and contribute to better choices.
How can social media inform recruitment decisions?
Although some statistics suggest that 94 per cent of recruiters use social media, the extent to which they rely on this channel ranges from informal checks on personal accounts, to hosting job boards on the brand’s Facebook site, to directly messaging talent in a sector-specific LinkedIn community.
Running social media checks on job applicants is a bit of a grey zone. For recruiters it’s a great opportunity to take a peek into the candidate’s informal self and natural habitat. Job seekers, on the other hand, are either blissfully unaware of the damage their personal social media activity can do to their career or play catch-up by changing visibility settings and removing dodgy pictures to make sure no future employer is deterred by their account.
As for the charge of businesses stalking prospective employees on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, although a clear-cut line could originally be drawn between private and professional social media sites, this distinction is getting increasingly fuzzy. For small businesses a social media account on Facebook is a great opportunity to build an online presence at low cost, while big brands use theirs as a marketing tool. Very often, individuals also set up a professional account on these so-called private websites to have better exposure.
From serendipity to an established HR practice
Social recruitment or the sourcing of candidates through social media platforms is a much more resource-intensive and strategic exercise than the screening of candidates on social media discussed previously. It involves building up a corporate hub on social media by providing online content, infographics, posts and videos of current employees and updates of company events.
The strategic purpose of this social media presence is to create a talent pool of individuals interested in the company’s values and activities, and who have skillsets that make them potential future candidates. Some businesses even grant special, insider status to these individuals, which enables them to participate in Q&As, chats with employees about the work culture, corporate values or even open positions. Company advocates, inspired employees who highlight the advantages of working for the company on various platforms, have a major role to play in making this social media community more robust.
Although social recruitment is regarded as rather resource-intensive and requires a separate social media-savvy recruiting team, there seems to be a consensus about its efficacy. Advanced search features of social media sites can help identify the right talent. By setting up or joining groups specific to a sector or industry, recruiters can approach and engage with potential recruits, who will be more comfortable about being solicited for jobs as it comes from someone in their online community.
The biggest potential of this emerging recruitment method lies precisely in the ability to reach out to passive candidates, who aren’t active jobseekers but may be ready to jump ship for an irresistible offer. This is more head-hunter territory than the remit of online job boards.
Currently, however, online jobsites are still the first port of call for corporate hiring teams. But if a study of Boston-based marketing company Aberdeen Group, which found that 73 per cent of millennials (those between 18 and 34) found their last position via a social media platform is anything to go by, this may change rather soon. As they, and the digital-native Generation Z cohort after them, are gradually becoming the backbone of the labour force, they will set the trends that the rest of us – including jobseekers and recruiters alike – will need to follow.
Zita Goldman covers digital transformation with a focus on demystifying digital technologies and showing how they fit into a broader sectoral, macroeconomic, legislative and societal context. She has a passion for connecting the dots of current business and financial news and explaining inconsistencies, for giving hype a reality check and looking behind buzzwords for fresh meaning.
The value of moving business to a flexible and personalised digital experience
Digital innovation has become an essential part of day-to-day life, from banking, weather, travel, entertainment and social connection. The digital economy now connects nearly every human and has fundamentally changed the way problems are solved, how economies work and how wealth is created. With every technology start-up or new app, user expectations grow and become more sophisticated. It is this incremental innovation that is now shaping expectations to provide data, intelligence and decisions when we need it, delivered through personalised, customisable and easy-to-use interfaces.
Technological evolution has historically been driven by the business world: electricity and steam engines, for example, were developed with businesses in mind, later being made available to the general public. Yet today’s business world has lagged behind the fast-paced consumer landscape, with every consumer now having a supercomputer in their pocket. It is now more important than ever to understand what a customer cares about and, as consumption and usage grow, more data and intelligence are produced, providing further learning for product and service enhancements (often in real time), which itself leads to even more usage and produces yet more data: the wheel spins faster.
Although these expectations are often difficult for businesses to meet, this growing maturity in the consumer domain presents many opportunities. Social media, such as LinkedIn, democratises the business world and widens opportunities to connect with the market, providing insights into where customers already are.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a number of opportunities, particularly where we had to move from in-person events to virtual. Our innovative online offering of discussion and networking opportunities attracted a younger and more diverse audience that historically would not have been present at in-person conferences. Sessions were shorter and more impactful and digestible. These digital events also provided continuous industry engagement rather than episodical. Thus, virtual offerings will likely become a constant addition to our in-person conferences.
However, the new customer expectation creates significant challenges for traditional businesses that do not have operating business models to fit the fast pace of the world we live in today.
Speed in reaction and consumption has become a critical new factor for businesses such as ICIS. Traditional PDF reports are a thing of the past, as we now deliver intelligence through insightful videos, infographics and visualisations from our market experts. Time in delivery being critical here as we look to provide insight and intelligence to volatile markets in real-time.
Business leaders no longer have to just manage capital allocation, and mastering the intangible is essential even in industries driven by the most tangible of assets. 32 per cent of firms in the S&P 500 now invest more in intangible assets such as R&D, networks, brands and data. The phrase “data is the new oil” is often bandied around, and you would expect the chemical sector – the fifth largest manufacturing sector and one in which ICIS is the leading provider of intelligence and decision tools – to be awash with rich sources of this vital raw material, but that is not the case. Commodity markets, particularly chemicals, are opaque, making it very inefficient for participants to operate efficiently. The ability to collect, aggregate, analyse and deliver both information and vital business insights is what drives our efforts, and it is where our core strengths lie.
Our most forward-thinking customers are using data to transform into insight-driven organisations and to use differentiated data to deliver superior experiences, create competitive advantage, manage risk and open up new opportunities for profitable growth. To do so data must be timely, trusted, accurate and useable to produce valuable analytics.
We are witnessing a spotlight on business models focused on easily integrated data delivery providing information where the customers want to consume it and how it fits into their workflow, ensuring they have the information they require at the point of decision.
The way businesses and customers operate has to change to facilitate this. Our parent company RELX (formerly Reed Elsevier) employed fewer than 1,500 technologists ten years ago, but now has 9,000. A third of ICIS' workforce are technologists. Instead of building disparate products in isolation, our decisions tools and applications now sit over a central repository of data and tools which enable us to extract the maximum value and intelligence from one of the greatest assets on our planet today: data.
Innovation in the digital space isn’t slowing down and it will continue to keep organisations on their toes. Voice recognition, AI modelling in price assessments and contributory data and gamifications are only a few trends that will pick up and again further shift customer behaviour and expectations. Businesses must deliver flexible and customisable solutions and allow users to extract the business insights through attractive and easy-to-use solutions.
To find out more please visit: www.icis.com/explore/services/market-intelligence/digital/customer-platform/
by Dean Curtis, President and CEO, ICIS
Is simpler technology the key to successful hybrid working?
The hybrid working debate provokes strong opinions. But the emerging consensus is that allowing people to work more frequently from home, while still regularly visiting the office, will offer the best balance for businesses and employees alike.
There’s also a consensus that video collaboration solutions will be critical to creating a hybrid-friendly working culture. After all, video kept the global economy turning during the pandemic, and experts predict that investment in video conferencing will grow significantly as businesses increasingly see hybrid working as an important strategic initiative. It can reduce both cost (office rent, desk space, business travel) and the carbon footprint of the organisation.
One solution fits all?
Outside the IT community, relatively little consideration is given to the differences between video collaboration platforms. Attention tends to focus on the (admittedly crucially important) areas of security, reliability and compliance. But what about the user experience? Can the choice of platform really exert a big impact on people’s job satisfaction and therefore an organisation’s productivity?
I passionately believe that it can. Why? Because people’s mental wellbeing has a big impact on their productivity, and I’m convinced that people are happiest and most productive at work when they are completely and effortlessly connected.
To test if these beliefs are widely held, in May 2021, we commissioned a survey of over 1,000 business users1 of a leading video conferencing and collaboration platform. The respondents came from both SMEs and enterprises, and they used the platform as a primary tool for business communication with colleagues and external contacts – for messaging and audio calls as well as for video meetings.
Our survey focused on uncovering if users were happy with the platform provided to them and what they found lacking if not.
Asked to describe their productivity when using the platform, 27 per cent said their productivity had fallen, compared to working in the office pre-pandemic. While an overwhelming 92 per cent said the platform made them less collaborative than when they were in their regular workplace.
We were especially interested in whether the platform’s many intricate features were a barrier to effective team working and it seems that they overwhelmingly are. A full 80 per cent reported finding the platform complex and frustrating to use, and in fact, 20 per cent of all users are so frustrated that they are actively looking for an alternative provider. Imagine spending 20 hours a week feeling exasperated and unable to work because of a tech platform. That's too much time by anyone's standards.
No surprise, then, that 67 per cent of respondents said they would welcome a simpler, cleaner and easier to use tool for collaboration.
Simpler is smarter
These results prove that a sizable proportion of businesses want a more straightforward way to connect and collaborate.
We didn't dig more deeply into whether our survey respondents were using their platform at home or in the office, or both. But given that it's purposely designed to work in both environments, I firmly believe that the challenges our survey respondents are experiencing apply across the hybrid working spectrum.
There is a better way. At StarLeaf, we’ve consciously designed and built a more intuitive way for people to message, meet and call: at home on their computer, on the move on a smartphone or in an office meeting room. Meanwhile, our industry leading reliability and accreditation to the highest standards of data security mean ease of use comes with performance you can trust.
If you’re planning for a future of hybrid working in your business, I’d urge you to investigate choosing a simpler collaboration platform such as StarLeaf. It frees your people from the complex tools that frustrate creativity, productivity and innovation, allowing them to focus on what really matters: creating the human connection at work.
Try StarLeaf free
by Mark Richer, Founder and CEO, StarLeaf
Images provided by Starleaf
 Censuswide survey, May 2021. Results are based on responses from 1,010 business users in the UK, of a leading video collaboration platform.
Protecting your company and distributed workforce from new compliance risks
A mobile workforce has always been one of the most valuable tools for growing business. Whether it’s a three-year assignment in Bangalore, a critical client conference in Denmark or a quick flight to train new staff in Brussels, the freedom to deploy talent across borders has been the foundation of success for many companies.
In the post-pandemic world, that’s changed. Tougher visa stipulations, Brexit, posted worker notifications and vigorously enforced tax penalties have converged with Covid-related restrictions to change business travel and corporate relocation forever.
If you manage your company’s workforce mobility programme or business travel, your job has likely become more challenging over the past year. Unfortunately, that was just the start. The future will bring more complexity, including a need for greater vigilance in duty of care, knowing where your employees are working and being able to connect with them when you need to.
Are you prepared for these new threats to your company’s growth and reputation, not to mention employee well-being?
New world, new challenges
Clearly, the best way to navigate the future of business travel and reduce risks will be implementing an easy pre-trip approval process – one that identifies immigration, tax and Covid regulations before the employee travels.
But the key is to make the process seamless and an organic part of your company’s “return to work” strategy, showing business units that you take the new threats seriously while demonstrating to employees that their safety and security is paramount. Especially since research shows that employees still want to travel and relocate if they can do so safely.
That’s why Weichert Workforce Mobility, one of the world’s leading global employee relocation firms, has introduced Weichert SMARTRIP™.
Know before they go
SMARTRIP uses more than four million algorithms to assess each relocation, assignment or employee trip against the latest travel, tax, Covid and visa/immigration requirements. This allows employers to protect the welfare of their employees so they can travel and work without the penalties, restrictions and reputational damage that compliance violations can bring.
It also empowers the business to plan better, compare different strategies (such as sending a technician who isn’t approaching a tax threshold) and avoid costs and expensive delays.
Once employees are where you need them, SMARTRIP provides ongoing monitoring to ensure they stay compliant with visa/immigration and tax requirements, while also allowing the company to locate and communicate with them in the event of emergency, strengthening duty of care.
“This solution evolved from work we had done for one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers to help better manage its human capital across the globe in the post-Covid landscape, and it’s a concern that will define the future of work for practically every company,” says Janet Markle, Weichert’s Senior Regional Vice President and one of the platform’s architects.
“With an increasingly distributed workforce, employers need to synergise both immigration and tax regulations to ensure compliance. This solution gives them the actionable information they need to make decisions that keep their business moving.”
Is your company’s compliance management built for the future of work? Review this checklist to see if your business travellers are generating risks you cannot ignore.
Best practices for business travelers and relocating employees
Here are some of the ways SMARTRIP synthesises data, keeps managers in the know and locks down corporate compliance:
• Pre-trip assessments ensure employees are authorised to travel or work in their new location
• An effortless mobile interface makes monitoring travel easy and provides an audit trail that supports duty of care, without dedicating enormous numbers of resources to self-monitoring
• Since many jurisdictions count cumulative time in country, the system monitors both business and leisure travel
• Automated alerts deliver a highly efficient solution for managing an increasingly dispersed workforce with greater transparency and efficiency. This supports company cost containment objectives without sacrificing security or duty of care priorities
Weichert also offers a host of service options – from supporting in-house cross-functional security, travel and mobility teams, to full outsourcing – that allow teams to expedite compliance co-ordination associated with V&I, Social Security, A1, Posted Worker and I9 documentation.
To determine if SMARTRIP is right for your organisation, we invite you to request a demo at our website.
The power of purpose
Rob Purdy, Founder and CEO, CarltonOne Engagement
Why do you work? Pre-pandemic, billions of employees would leave home every morning to spend their day at an office, store, factory, farm, on the road or on a job site. This daily pattern was (and will be again) driven by a complex combination of motivations. Work is where we earn our income, but it’s also where, in many cases, we earn our self-worth, our social capital and find our purpose in life. Work is one of the most critical elements of both our livelihood and our identity.
Smart employers understand that they can’t engage an employee without engaging their sense of purpose. It’s a complex puzzle, with extraordinary benefits if solved. Making work mean more can unlock new levels of loyalty, innovative design thinking, personal and team performance, and revenue growth.
The absence of purpose creates more than just an absence of motivation. It can be actively damaging to a company’s existence. According to Gallup’s global employee engagement survey, 85 per cent of employees dislike coming to work. It reports:
"Worldwide, the percentage of adults who work full time for an employer and are engaged at work – they are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace – is just 15 per cent. That low percentage of engaged employees is a barrier to creating high-performing cultures. It implies a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of our global employee engagement database are 17 per cent more productive and 21 per cent more profitable than those in the bottom quartile."
Disengaged employees do what is required… and nothing more. Their work is transactional, scope-restricted and formulaic. On the other hand, motivated and engaged employees exhibit more problem-solving creativity, and are more innovative, collaborative and future-focused. They find personal meaning in their work and reap a higher emotional value from their contribution. For engaged employees, work has a purpose beyond their task list.
The world’s most complex puzzle
At CarltonOne, our business was founded to crack the code of employee engagement. It’s the world’s most complex puzzle, because at its heart it’s all about human emotions, gratitude, motivation and purpose. This work is deeply rewarding and meaningful, and along the way, we’ve introduced technologies that make a real difference in offices, factories, stores and boardrooms in more than 85 countries. Today, more than two million people around the world open our apps. They are used by managers, teams and employees to recognise great work, redeem for amazing rewards and create motivating incentive programmes. Our goal is to help make it easier for leaders to make work mean more – to better align business and personal goals and create an environment that optimises performance.
As the pandemic splintered offices and teams around the world, forcing billions of people to create ad hoc home offices, the need for better connectivity and cohesion suddenly became very clear. And we’re not talking about faster Wi-Fi or more reliable network document sharing. A company’s culture is a powerful social and emotional force, and without the reinforcement of daily connection, employees can feel even more isolated, and leaders can struggle to build momentum and unity. Companies that can centre their culture around the touchstone of a clearly defined purpose consistently fare better with a distributed workforce.
Purpose is the certainty that there’s more value to your work than the daily irritants of meetings and tasks and deadlines. It’s the higher reason that propels you to go further, work harder and think a little differently. For some, purpose is about creating a better world, helping others or creating a revolutionary product. For others, their sense of purpose is fuelled by a personal drive to be the best they can. Whatever form it takes, belief in a sense of purpose is critical to both personal success and business exceptionalism.
In our recent video, we explored the transformational concept of purpose and how it led to the creation of our new eco-action engine to directly turn transactions into funding for climate change initiatives around the world. Because we serve customers in more than 85 countries, we understand more than most companies the opportunity for positive global change that our products and community of members can create. And it has led directly to what we believe is our true calling…
The miracle of eco-action
Eco-action is the missing link in many corporate social responsibility solutions. Helping employees and sales teams help the environment while being recognised and rewarded for their performance is a true game changer. It’s automatic, seamless and creates a tangible real-world outcome. To begin with, our partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects has resulted in more than six million trees being planted, and we are well on our way towards planting 100 million trees every year by the end of 2022. Based on this real-world success, we’re integrating our eco-action business model across our entire product platform – and branching out from tree planting to encompass ocean, soil and species protection.
The power of purpose to help companies grow, help employees feel fulfilled, challenge the status quo and unleash generation-defining change is extraordinary. Work can mean more once it is aligned to a greater motivation than just profit. Every company, of any size, can benefit from inspiring its workforce, its customers and its vendor network to aim higher, do better and achieve more. It begins by finding the answer to a simple question: why do you work?
NFTs hit the big league, but not everyone will win from this new sports craze
Some buy sporting memorabilia for love. Others for money.
The world record for most money paid for a sports-related item goes to the original Olympic manifesto written in 1892 by International Olympic Committee founder Pierre de Coubertin. It changed hands in 2019 for US$8.8 million. In second place is the New York Yankees jersey worn by legendary American baseball player Babe Ruth, sold in 2012 for USA$4.4 million.
As in all markets for collectibles, scarcity equals value.
Which is why sport organisations, memorabilia sellers and collectors are getting excited about non-fungible tokens – or NFTs – a blockchain-enabled technology that proves unique ownership of digital content.
NFTs open up a huge new market to sell limited-edition images, videos and artwork. They also enable the original licensees – be it sports organisations or individual athletes – to share in resale profits.
NFTs are already sweeping the art market. In March, auction house Christie’s sold an NFT of a work by American digital artist Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, for US$69 million. Auction house Sotheby’s last month sold a single pixel for $US1.36 million.
Could we see similar NFT values in the sports collectibles market? Quite possibly.
Though tangible items such as uniforms, balls and bats will likely continue to be prized collectibles, collectors are already paying big bucks for digital versions of old favourites such as trading cards.
Leading the game is the US National Basketball Association, which began selling limited-edition “Top Shots” – digitally packaged and NFT-authenticated video highlight clips – in October 2020. Like traditional trading cards, these are sold in “packs”. Some videos are common, others rare. One such rare “moment” – in reality about half a moment – of basketball superstar LeBron James dunking reportedly changed hands in April for US$387,000.
Who knows what someone might pay for that moment in decades to come?
It might be millions more. Or much much less. Because this market, for all its early promises of rich rewards, is not without its downsides, with potential for significant environmental and social costs.
What are non-fungible tokens (NFTs)?
Something is fungible when it has a standardised and interchangeable value. It is replaceable by something else just like it. Cash is the obvious example. Non-fungible essentially means something unique, non-replaceable.
So NFTs are essentially digital certificates, secured with blockchain technology, that authenticate an item’s provenance – that it is a limited edition or one of kind – and enable it to be bought and sold as such.
An NFT provides scarcity of digital content that can be relatively easily copied – a photo of Indian cricket great Sachin Tendulkar making a world-record score, for example, or a video of tennis No. 1 Ash Barty winning at Wimbledon.
There are big opportunities
The potential riches are evident from the NBA’s Top Shot sales, which accounted for US$500 million in transactions in the first three months of the year. This was a third of the total US$1.5 billion in NFT transactions, according to DappRadar, which tracks blockchain markets.
Last month San Francisco-based NBA team the Golden State Warriors was the first US professional sports team to issue its own NFT collection, which includes limited-edition digital versions of championship rings and ticket stubs.
Individual athletes are also selling their own branded items in NFT form. NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes, for example, is selling signed digital artwork. Champion skateboarder Mariah Duran and paralympian Scout Bassett are among a group of elite women athletes who will release NFTs this month. Expect to see many more selling NFTs in the wake of the Toyko Olympics.
There are also risks
But there are some big downsides.
The first is environmental – because of the energy used in blockchain verification processes.
Of course, making and transporting physical goods has a range of environmental impacts, but by one calculation the carbon footprint of selling an NFT artwork is almost 100 times that of selling and transporting a print version. In February, French digital artist Joanie Lemercier cancelled the sale of six works, and urged others to do the same, after calculating those sales would use the same amount of electricity in ten seconds as his studio used in two years.
Eliminating this downside of NFTs will depend on more efficient technology and more renewable energy.
The second is social – of people only seeing NFTs as a way to make money.
As in any market where prices are rising rapidly, there is the danger of a speculative bubble. Here, the risk is that buyers spend big on virtual items that may end up being virtually worthless when the bubble bursts.
Last year also saw large and continuing market growth in traditional sport collectibles such as trading cards, along with retail investment in cryptocurrencies and stock markets more generally. So, while the value attached to NFTs may prove to be enduring, it is possible some part of the early interest in sport NFTs is driven by “irrational exuberance” and patterns of people spending more time and money online due to the COVID pandemic.
There are likely to be many more sport organisations and athletes peddling their digital wares in the near future. It is though, difficult to predict whether sales will continue this trajectory, how and when this trend might “normalise”, or if NFTs indeed represent a speculative bubble.
Particularly for fans playing in this market, care should be taken to not let emotions trump prudence and good judgment.
Hybrid working is so much more than a choice between home and office
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the world of work will be changed forever by the pandemic. But while no one expects a return to traditional ways of working, opinions are divided about what the workspace of the future will look like.
The conventional wisdom is that when restrictions lift, most people will choose to split their work time between home and office. But that betrays a lack of imagination and a failure to grasp the true impact of what we’re going through. The much-vaunted hybrid model of working will not be a binary choice; it will be something bigger, broader and altogether more profound.
The question is, what does this new future look like? One thing is certain – this topic will dominate the boardroom of all companies. The most progressive employers are taking action quickly to drive change.
Firstly, the concept of the physical office as a core part of an organisation’s brand and operating model will not disappear. In many respects the role of the office will grow, but it will become more intentional in its design and purpose. Progressive organisations will need to offer employees more. A model based on supervision and oversight is giving way to one based on autonomy and trust. The familiar patterns of office life are important, but they will sit alongside a new world of employee-centred choice.
The Office Group (TOG) was founded in 2003 with a mission to reinvent the office space market and improve the way people work. Today, TOG is the leading design-led provider of flexible workspaces, with more than 50 buildings across the UK and Germany. Nearly 20,000 members call TOG home.
What is different about TOG is that unlike the majority of real estate providers, we are not simply a portfolio of individual office buildings. We are a cohesively designed platform of over 2.2 million sq ft of workspace – some of which is office space, but also gyms, yoga studios, meeting rooms, lounges, screening rooms, meditation rooms, cafés, bars, roof gardens and event spaces. If you are one of our members, you can have an office in one of our buildings, access multiple locations within the TOG platform, or use a mixture of the two. Having a workspace at TOG gives you access to so much more than just an office.
So how does this translate? In London, we have more than 40 buildings, in locations from Canary Wharf to Hammersmith. Whether your office is part of TOG or not, we think it will be critical for employers to provide access to a wider platform of spaces for employees to work. Team meetings, creative problem-solving, client presentations, one-to-ones, site visits, quality thinking time, content generation, relaxing and unwinding… each of these tasks may be best performed in a different setting and a different location depending on the needs of the employee, the client or the team. Employers that offer this kind of dynamic working model will have a big head start in the future battle for talent.
We designed our platform to offer this choice, as we fundamentally believe – even before COVID – that the future of work is flexible. Underpinning this is choice and ease.
A shift like this requires companies to look long and hard at their employee value proposition, to evolve their approach to real estate and select the right partners to work with to drive this shift. Traditionally, larger corporates have used flexible office space to solve short-term tactical problems, rather than as part of the strategic management of people and assets. The pandemic is forcing a reappraisal and accelerating the need for the flexible office market to evolve so that it can serve the needs of larger corporates.
That requires a service culture rooted in deep real estate expertise – a ‘best of both worlds’ proposition that marries sophisticated account management capability with a modern, agile approach to structuring solutions and service agreements. The sophistication required by the flexible sector must be matched with maturity and understanding of the needs of its customers in a way it hasn’t before.
At TOG, we are already trialling this new approach with a number of corporates, from providing a new model for key offices through to the creation of a dispersed campus of locations across London that augments a large HQ. These pilots are allowing these companies to gather the data they need to best define their working practices.
The scale and agility of the TOG platform are steadily attracting more and more big employers, including BP. The energy giant has leased Douglas House, a 50,000 sq ft property that will provide a new hub for the company’s venturing, digital and mobility futures teams, providing 700 desks for 1,000 employees and including a barista bar operated by Caravan and a state-of-the-art gym operated by Manor, as well as a roof garden and event space.
The hub will bring together technology- and innovation-focused teams who are currently spread across different London locations. It will provide adaptable and digitally enabled workspaces and allow teams either to work flexibly or collaborate in the same location to encourage creativity and innovation. As part of their TOG membership, BP staff will have access to the entire TOG platform, including coworking spaces, video conferencing booths, tech-enabled meeting rooms and event spaces.
Companies such as BP, Ocado, GSK and a slew of high-profile tech firms are working with TOG to lead the charge towards a more progressive way of working. Even before the pandemic struck, these businesses were embracing a future that offers much more than a binary choice between home and office, adapting their employer proposition to meet the evolving needs of their people.
Change in working practices is not new, and different companies have been exploring different strategies for decades. The pandemic, however, has changed the paradigm of what is expected from the employer by the employee. Companies that don’t pick up the pace and embrace this shift in ways of working will be left behind.
Toby Ogden is Chief Commercial Officer at The Office Group
Embrace the golden age of contingent workforces
Among those who study and monitor the world of work, there is a growing sentiment that we have entered a golden age of contingent workforces. External talent has become both an inextricable part of strategic workforce planning and a critical competitive differentiator for post-Covid growth. The contingent workforce is delivering significant value for employers, but what do the latest contingent trends mean for organisations, and how can employers ensure they grasp this opportunity?
The events of 2020 have driven equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) to the top of the corporate agenda. This focus has extended ED&I initiatives to talent suppliers, managed services providers and recruitment outsourcing firms. To truly cultivate diversity, external talent partners need to reflect an inclusive culture and a commitment to ED&I to credibly sustain outreach and engagement efforts amongst the communities they support. Without this commitment from partners, enterprises risk falling short of their aspirations to foster ED&I as a public and corporate good.
Focus on statement of work
With budget control crucial, more businesses have reviewed their external workforce spend. For many, it quickly became clear last year that there were gaps of information relating to purchased and outsourced services managed through SoWs. At the same time, the quick shift to remote work heightened the focus on how projects are structured and managed. In this new environment, a preference has emerged toward outcome and deliverable based purchasing to streamline budgets, improve supplier accountability and increase visibility to enable organisations to effectively scale workforces up and down.
A strong contingent voice
In a similar vein, the ability to complete a holistic workforce diagnostic and identify who is employed and how they are contracted has never been so important. A “contingent voice” needs to be at the table now and in a post-Covid environment. Unless this opportunity is supported with continued action to improve external workforce engagement, the opportunity to benefit from total talent management will be diluted.
Those organisations that grasp this opportunity to capitalise on these trends and maintain the momentum will be the drivers of economic recovery post-Covid. Will your firm be one of them?
For more information visit www.guidantglobal.com
Why establishing trust is more important than monitoring productivity
In the wake of Covid-19, many organisations – and employees – are concerned about maintaining productivity. The shift to remote working, combined with the challenges of balancing career and caring responsibilities has led to the need for more flexibility.
Providing this flexibility requires trust, and while some organisations have put their employees under scrutiny, those that understand the importance of trust have focused on enabling them to work in a way that accommodates these trying times.
Employees at all levels are already facing huge amounts of stress and anxiety, which is proven to undermine performance. Measures such as employee monitoring software only intensify these pressures, creating the perfect conditions for burnout.
Instead of focusing on short-term gains at the expense of employee health and wellbeing, now is the time to put more trust in your people. Studies have shown that employees working for organisations with high levels of trust are more productive, have more energy at work, collaborate better with their colleagues and stay with their employers longer.
Building trust takes time, but it doesn’t require putting blind faith in your employees. As an organisation you can invest in technology that enables you to understand the needs of your employees in real time, encourages management behaviours that establish trust, and creates a feedback culture that relies on transparency and accountability.
In doing so, it’s possible to create an organisational culture that is more enjoyable for everyone involved, while still delivering high levels of performance and productivity.
Based on 10 million survey responses, our data reveals that Peakon customers improved employee engagement by 2 per cent between January and July 2020. Employees felt most positive about the ability to work remotely, the change to their working environment and the support given for their mental health.
Covid-19 has forced organisations to make changes in months that might once have taken years. Those that have embraced this transformation and provided the trust and support that employees need are the same ones more likely to prosper in the new normal.
Download the full report at Peakon.com/heartbeat
by Patrick Cournoyer, chief evangelist at Peakon, a Workday company
Leading from the front: how business leaders should set the tone when it comes to mental health
Experts indicate that stress and anxiety are normal in moments of crisis. But the challenges posed by the pandemic have been enduring, and the path to normality is likely to be long. And, so, the stress many of us have felt over the past 12 months has the potential to become problematic and even damaging.
Anxiety doesn’t discriminate by wealth or status. Recent data from premium health insurer Bupa Global in its Executive Wellbeing Index showed that 70 per cent of high net worth individuals from around the world have experienced symptoms of mental ill-health since the start of the pandemic. Business leaders face a double challenge: not only must they manage their own mental health, they also have a duty of care to look after their employees.
Despite the wealth of information, resources and even legislation available to support people with mental health issues, talking about these topics could still be considered difficult by some.
According to Bupa Global’s Index, 33 per cent of business leaders feel that seeking help for mental health issues could impact on their social standing or professional reputation.
Stigma and discrimination can worsen someone’s mental health problems and delay or impede them getting help and treatment, so it’s vital to tackle them.
“The first step is being open and honest: accepting our challenges, rather than brushing them under the carpet,” says Dr Luke James, medical director at Bupa Global. “Just because you’re successful doesn’t mean that everything is okay, and because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with mental ill-health, expert support is essential.”
Indeed, business leaders have a responsibility to break down the stigma associated with mental health issues such as stress and anxiety to ensure everyone can thrive at work.
Leading by example
Being an effective manager is about much more than simply delegating workloads and tracking performance against KPIs and targets. It’s clear that a happy workforce is a more motivated and productive one, so the first step is talking about mental health openly and honestly.
For Dr James, the key is viewing mental health for what it is – a problem with someone’s health. “We find it normal, or at least easier, to talk about our physical illnesses than we do about how life, stress and mental ill-health affects our brain,” he explains. “But the truth is that speaking up about mental health in the workplace is the only way to break this stigma.”
Some organisations are already putting this into practice. Indeed, as part of an initiative from the World Health Organisation, a number of organisations, including Clifford Chance, Deloitte and HSBC, have teamed up to encourage other firms to advance “the desperately needed conversation around creating an open, welcoming, and supportive workplace environment for all when it comes to mental health” – signing a pledge committing themselves to promoting and developing a more positive culture around mental health.
Bupa Global’s approach to mental health support
At Bupa Global, our purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives. We recognise that mental health is just as important as physical health and believe in helping people to feel their best and stay that way too. To support this, we have removed both annual and monetary limits across plans for in-patient and day-patient mental health treatment (up to the annual maximum limit of your chosen plan).
For more information about Bupa Global premium health plans visit bupaglobal.com/withyou, or talk to our Private Client team today on 03333 315758
Calls may be recorded. Bupa Global is a trading name of Bupa Insurance Limited and Bupa Insurance Services Limited. Bupa Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Bupa Insurance Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
How virtual production is redefining the filmmaking process
Virtual production has exploded in popularity due to a demand for incredibly high-quality film and TV production, at a fraction of the time and cost. With the rise of large-scale production companies such as Netflix and Amazon, audiences are spoiled for choice while filmmakers face the challenge of delivering visually stunning productions at a rate unimaginable in pre-streaming days.
To meet this huge demand, filmmaking processes need to be reviewed. Traditional film production occurs in a linear phase: scenes are storyboarded, actors are filmed on set, location or greenscreen, then visual effects teams add the finishing touches during post-production. But this is both lengthy and expensive as teams can only see and decide on the final output during post-production.
What if these creative decisions could be brought in much earlier in the process? Virtual production enables filmmakers to render photorealistic computer-generated scenes on an LED background and interactively visualise them in real time.
With much of this technology rooted in gaming, filmmakers can now build incredibly high-quality scenes with game engines such as Unreal Engine. Together with high-power graphics cards, camera tracking and augmented and mixed reality, these technologies marry the digital and physical world, where what you see in camera is what you get.
disguise, a leader in extended reality, envisioned a solution where all these technologies integrate into one core workflow, breaking down barriers between creative and technical implementation. Our Extended Reality (xR) platform for virtual production takes in the real-time rendered CG content and delivers it into the physical LED space, at any scale.
disguise xR brings everyone together – from the director to the producers and the talent on stage – enabling them to see how their scenes will progress and make creative decisions on the fly, improving content using the disguise software.
With disguise xR, filmmakers can capture the creative magic of working together as they would with physical sets, while minimising the amount of time, money and uncertainty of conventional post-production.
Discover everything you need to know about xR
The workplace of the future puts employees first
Hybrid working. The new normal. Zoom fatigue. WFH. Among many changes, the pandemic has popularised a slew of new jargon, as professionals worldwide adjusted to drastic shifts in their work environments virtually overnight. But as businesses develop their return-to-office strategies, it can be difficult to distinguish between hype and long-lasting trends.
Managing employee experience in the hybrid era
After more than a year of working from home, employees are used to autonomy – and most aren’t willing to give it up. Previously, the concept of employee experience was synonymous with office environments. It was about the design, services and amenities in these spaces and how they combined to enhance productivity, engagement and wellbeing. Providing an exceptional experience at work had become a weapon in brand-building, talent attraction and retention, and broader business success.
But this view of employee experience has always been too narrow. For millions of office workers, the pandemic has exposed an often-overlooked fact: work is a thing that you do, not a place you go.
According to Gensler’s recent US Work From Home Survey, people are anticipating a return to a new and different workplace. Companies that try to resume business as usual where the office is concerned will only cause employees to question whether it’s worth making the commute.
The challenge for businesses is to give employees more control over where and how they work while maintaining health, safety and privacy, and planning appropriately for workspace needs.
Identifying the right balance of people and spaces
As more people become vaccinated, businesses are beginning to reopen their offices, but it’s difficult to gauge workspace demand when arrangements are flexible and schedules can change daily.
Without the right technology, managing office occupancy is challenging. While reviewing security badge swipes can indicate how many people are in a building at a given time, it doesn’t provide any insight into how those employees are using each space.
Space management software and occupancy sensors help solve this challenge by showing where people are on digital floorplans. This makes it easy for real estate or facilities management teams to spot areas that are becoming overly crowded and may need to be reconfigured, such as small conference rooms or break rooms. Once they identify these areas, they can use space-planning algorithms to map out and implement changes.
Even after the pandemic, this can help businesses understand longer-term space usage patterns to optimise the workplace according to employees’ needs.
Creating more personalised experiences
Now that many employees realise they can be productive remotely, it’s more important than ever to create office spaces with purpose. Activity-based working – allowing employees to select a type of space that best supports the task they’re engaged in – gives them the flexibility they’ve come to expect while helping companies manage costs in an environment where office occupancy may vary from day to day.
Imagine walking into the office, and a mobile app immediately displays the most relevant announcements and services available. On choosing a workspace, all settings – from the lighting to the window shade above the desk – adjust to the user’s preferences. This could soon become reality. Intelligent workplace technology can communicate directly with employees’ smartphones to provide real-time information, such as which areas are available or occupied. This results in an office experience that’s as untethered as remote work.
Reducing real estate costs
Many organisations were only using 40 to 60 per cent of their corporate real estate space before the pandemic. Now, with most office workers planning to spend at least part of their week working remotely, companies are looking for opportunities to consolidate that unused space.
Using daily reports to monitor peak and average occupancy rates, workplace leaders can determine which areas of the office get the most traffic. To better manage seating, they can also implement desk-booking software to make certain seats reservable. This gives employees the flexibility to choose when they come to the office and where they sit while providing valuable workplace analytics to help predict future trends.
Employee-focused workplace strategy
Employee experience remains a critical tool for competitive advantage, but the rules have changed. According to PwC’s 2021 US Remote Work Survey, 87 per cent of executives say the workplace is “important for collaborating with team members and building relationships”. Despite predictions of the death of the office, it remains a vital component of company culture. Implementing technology that puts employees at the centre of workplace strategy and continually informs its execution through rich data will position businesses for success.
by Chad David Smith, Vice President of Product Strategy, iOFFICE
Narrow, unrealistic and worrying: how can young people’s career aspirations rise to the challenge?
Never before in history have so many young people stayed in education for so long. Across the world, young people are leaving education more highly qualified than any preceding generation. Yet, although they approach the working world with unprecedented levels of human capital, in many countries they struggle to find good jobs that reflect their skills and interests. When graduates can’t find suitable employment and recruiters can’t find the young talent they need, there is reason to look afresh at how well young people are being prepared for their lives in work.
Every three years, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) organises an assessment of hundreds of thousands of young people around the globe. Through the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), countries can compare the academic performance and perceptions of a representative sample of 15-year-olds in dozens of countries and economic areas. In a recent report, an analysis of PISA 2018 data sheds new light on the career expectations of teenagers and their relation to actual labour market demand.
From 2000, the PISA assessment has asked young people about the job they expect to have at age 30. Since then, the aspirations of teenagers have become increasingly concentrated, so much so that now one in two girls and boys across OECD countries anticipates working in one of just 10 different jobs. In the UK, 53 per cent of girls and 47 per cent of boys have these narrow aspirations. Of particular concern is that the career aspirations of young people are so closely linked to their gender and socio-economic status. Six of the occupations most commonly cited by British boys, including business manager, are not cited at all by British girls.
It may be reasonable to ask: does this really matter? Analysis by the OECD and other researchers suggests strongly that it does. Such levels of concentration show prima facie evidence of poor labour market signalling at a time when young people are approaching critical decisions about whether they will stay in education and, if so, what and where they will study. When examining young people’s expectations in light of labour market projections, it becomes clear that young people are responding in very limited ways to employer signals concerning areas of both job growth and likely automation.
Internationally, levels of concentration have grown steadily since 2000, especially among boys, weaker academic performers and children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Moreover, the PISA tests in literacy, mathematics and science give a good indication of whether a young person is capable of succeeding in higher education. UK data show that one in three of such high performers from disadvantaged backgrounds do not expect to go to university, compared to just one in 12 of their advantaged peers.
Data from longitudinal studies, which follow thousands of people from birth to adulthood, reveal that what young people think and experience about the labour market makes a difference to their adult success. Career aspirations are, to an important extent, predictive of what follows. Young people who work part-time or who engage with employers through career talks organised by their schools do better as working adults than would otherwise be expected. Children whose occupational ambitions align with their educational plans are more likely to thrive through school-to-work transitions.
In a world where jobs are subject to rapid and disruptive automation, the decisions that young people make as they stay in education longer are not only becoming more numerous, but more difficult. The challenge for schools and colleges is to help young people develop aspirations that are broad, realistic and reflective of their abilities and interests. Good career guidance begins early and broadens the aspirations of young people, giving them access to first-hand encounters with the working world. It enables young people to become informed critical thinkers about the labour market – how it works and what place they can imagine for themselves in it. To help them succeed, people in work have an essential role to play in helping teachers and guidance counsellors bring learning to life, and ensuring that young people engage in education and make their plans for the future with their eyes open to the myriad opportunities and pitfalls of working life. As the working world becomes ever more complex, such a culture of collaboration is increasingly urgent.
How can employers and governments address the mismatch between the aspirations of young people and the future of work? How can we best accompany young people to ensure they thrive in their studies, professional and personal lives? How can learning systems catch up? Through the “I am the Future of Work” campaign, the OECD is gathering stories and insights about the way the world of work is changing, and fostering solutions-oriented conversations to build a more inclusive future of work.
Anthony Mann is Senior Analyst (Education and Skills) at the OECD and lead author of Dream Jobs? Teenagers’ Career Aspirations and the Future of Work. Visit the “I am the Future of Work” campaign website.
Employee monitoring: a useful tool but not a modus operandi
Employers have traditionally been opposed to remote work, as the absence of physical proximity significantly diminishes opportunities to contain employees’ tendency to slack off, with the double deterrent of monitoring and group pressure. The pandemic, however, left companies with no choice but to allow their staff to work from the comfort or, occasionally, turmoil of their homes.
Anxious that their workers would take advantage of staying under the company radar, CEOs and HR departments, especially those in large companies, resorted to monitoring software, which, in certain cases, borders on surveillance. The technology was readily available and mature and there were practically no legal hindrances.
The scope and types of employee monitoring
Monitoring employees’ activities is legal in the UK and Europe, although theoretically, a balance needs to be struck between business interests and employee expectations of privacy in line with data protection and privacy legislation such as the Data Protection Act, the GDPR and the Employment Practices Data Protection Code.
Although it’s a requirement that subjects are notified if they are being monitored, their consent is not necessary in most cases – and even if it was, its genuineness couldn’t be guaranteed due to the employee’s interest to conform to keep their job.
The right of the employer to track, on the other hand, is not limited to company devices. Private laptops and mobiles can also be monitored, as long as they hold work-related information.
There are various forms and degrees of employee monitoring. Soft-touch types will search for keywords in emails or social media posts and send alerts if red-listed items come up. So-called network monitoring tools focus on general activity and flag up patterns that may pose serious security threats.
Others, meanwhile, are much more intrusive, providing granular, personal data on browser activity, recording computer idle time or the hours the employee spends offline and triggering nudges if toilet breaks, for example, exceed the pre-set amount.
The software that resembles surveillance tools will even take regular screenshots, use webcams for making videos of employee activity and keep logs of every keystroke made on the device.
Moreover, the GPS in mobiles can serve as a handy tool to alert employers when their workers leave the perimeters of their home office for no apparent work-related reason.
Legitimate reasons and the surveillance arms race
For banks, insurers and investment funds, no one can underestimate the security challenges of the home office. A rising tide of hacking, phishing and insider threat incidents during the pandemic makes a compelling case for the heightened monitoring of employees working with sensitive data in confidential sectors.
Those working in these areas already have a higher tolerance of being monitored for compliance, in both physical and online settings. No one doubts that intellectual property, trade secrets and sensitive personal data need to be protected from rogue or negligent colleagues, although effective identity and access management can go a long way to achieve that.
The deployment of excessive and intrusive surveillance technology to track employee productivity, however, sounds like overkill and may prove to be rather counterproductive.
It wasn’t just sales of employee monitoring software that soared in the first months of the pandemic – sales of anti-surveillance solutions also rose. Until a coding loophole was closed, software that set your Slack status as permanently active – a digital version of leaving your coat and briefcase in the office while popping out for a lunch date – was a major hit.
In a phantom employee engagement award ceremony, the second prize would probably go to another solution that can convincingly imitate mouse movements while the actual employee is busy being entirely unproductive, at least from a work perspective.
How close a tab should bosses keep on their staff?
Businesses should ideally play these sorts of technological catch-up games with their cyber attackers, while their relationships with employees should, according to management gurus, be built on trust – something which surveillance can easily undermine.
Also, an approach that assesses performance based on the hours that workers are glued to their screens is a relapse to the old days when employees were sometimes just twiddling their thumbs at their desks until the time to clock out arrived – and which output-oriented flexi-work was meant to replace.
In order to have it both ways – spurring on employees to be more productive without eroding trust – employee monitoring can be turned into a wonderful self-assessment tool. After all, each of us, for example, is susceptible to cyber-loafing or, in other words, procrastination by roaming the internet, to a certain degree.
Learning how many productive hours we spend on our computers while convinced we are working our socks off – the score for the average UK office worker is just three out of eight hours – can be sobering.
Digital self-monitoring can also be a useful means to prove to demanding bosses that a task genuinely takes more time to accomplish than they would like to think – or the other way round – as well as settling all kinds of disputes that require hard evidence.
Intrusive and disproportionate employee monitoring can also increasingly backfire. The red lines into the no man’s land that digitalisation created in this area are being drawn in front of our eyes.
Microsoft has recently watered down its productivity score and decided to reframe it as a measure of an organisation’s adoption of digital technology rather than a way to monitor employee behaviour. Barclays, which already had a track record of trying to push boundaries, scrapped its monitoring system in response to employee feedback in February and the H&M Group was fined a record €35.3 million (£32.1 million) in Germany in October 2020 for an employment-related privacy breach of the GDPR while collecting and analysing work behaviour data of hundreds of its employees.
There is a pressing need to create hard and clear rules about the dos and don’ts of employee tracking. It could both prevent workers from getting disengaged under the prying eyes of their employers and save companies from learning the hard way where the red lines are supposed to be.
The new-age contact centre: a post-Covid workplace fit for a king
Living and working through the first lockdown was a challenge for many – including those toiling in traditional, mill-style contact centres. Fast-forward to spring 2021, though, and conditions in that sector have undergone a quiet revolution. The change has been driven by the need to clear packed buildings of their battery-hen-style seating.
These workplaces are often now unrecognisable from before Covid, with staff emboldened by a new-found sense of their importance to extract concessions from employers. Chief among their demands has been flexibility of location and hours – long seen as a no-go area in this most controlled of environments – as call handlers and webchat responders lay out their post-Covid workers’ paradise.
Alongside emerging employee expectations, consumer habits have also transformed. Businesses need to meet both workers’ and customers’ demands in order to survive and thrive in a time of fickle loyalties and easy switching, where customer experience (CX) has the power to make or break a business.
As vaccination programmes ramp up, and lockdown exit plans take shape, organisations are turning to cutting-edge technology to establish and maintain a competitive advantage.
Distributed working models will be the new norm
As we entered the pandemic, research showed that only 27 per cent of contact centres had systems in place to utilise home-based agents as part of their workforce mix. Meanwhile, 82 per cent of contact centres said they anticipated having some form of remote-workforce model in place by 2029. These long-term plans were brought forward as worldwide lockdowns hit.
Organisations that already had the latest cloud-based contact centre as a service (CCaaS) technology in place were able to shift to homeworking with ease, while the rest scrambled to move to the cloud as quickly as possible. Now, whether out of choice or necessity, businesses and public sector organisations are rolling out cloud technology at record pace, with the benefits of a flexibly located workforce becoming obvious to employers.
Distributed working is also beneficial to employees who have experienced a more flexible working model and may insist upon this option in a post-Covid world. A recent study by Stanford University found that 55 per cent of workers would like a mix of remote- and office-working. With drive from both employees and their employers, then, distributed working models are here to stay.
Employee experience and customer experience: a match made in heaven
If reduced churn and lower staff sickness levels weren’t enough of a reason to invest in the technology to enable flexible working, the impact of improved employee satisfaction on customer engagement will convince any laggards to move to the cloud. Employee and customer experience are intrinsically linked – one drives the other.
Industry analyst Gartner’s big trend prediction for 2021 is the idea of ‘total experience’ – the combination of CX, employee experience and user experience to transform business operations. The value of tightly linking these, rather than improving each as an individual objective, is fundamental to overall business success.
This is especially relevant in the contact centre, where customer experience is king and consumers can defect to a competitor after just one poor interaction with an organisation, whether on the phone or via a digital channel such as webchat. To survive in today’s marketplace, it is essential for businesses to recognise that a happy worker is more likely to deliver a best-in-class CX.
The logical next step is AI
Moving to the cloud is the first step in many organisations’ digital transformations. With cutting-edge contact centre solutions comes the opportunity to deploy advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Organisations in every sector are now implementing AI to optimise performance, streamline processes, deliver personalised services to customers and uncover insights to inform strategic decisions.
Research shows early adopters of AI report around a 25 per cent improvement in CX, increased margins and enhanced competitiveness. The most successful highlighted the importance of striking a balance between deploying advanced AI tools and leveraging the skills of human agents – using intelligent automation technologies to boost performance.
Utilising AI-powered chatbots, for example, enables organisations to rapidly handle basic customer FAQs, offer self-service options and direct people to the resources and information they need. This frees up agents for more complex queries or to assist vulnerable customers while reducing the monotony of dealing with repetitive enquiries.
The past 12 months have presented contact centres with an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate digital transformation and change the way they work. In a post-Covid landscape, organisations should continue to evolve their old-style contact centres into value-driven customer engagement hubs, orchestrating a best-in-class customer experience. Implementing cutting-edge CCaaS technology that enables flexible working, improves employee satisfaction and has AI capabilities is a sure-fire way to create a contact centre fit for a king.
The office is stepping down to make way for the laptop
With the majority of businesses embracing remote or hybrid work, laptops have become emblematic of the conventional office. They represent, almost in their entirety, what the office once stood for: a place for work, collaboration and communication. With this change in dynamic comes new challenges, opportunities and considerations that will have three direct consequences for businesses.
Embracing remote employees will open your organisation up to a global talent pool
The beauty of life is that no two people are the same, so why should businesses treat them as anything other than unique? When we’re untethered from the office yet still able to work (thanks in no small part to laptops), it encourages personal accountability for our own lives, irrespective of an office location. It means employees could be located anywhere in the world and still be working, and organisations can fully realise the strategic advantages of being a truly global business.
This new freedom afforded to employees makes them more loyal, engaged and productive, because they’re worrying less about where or when they’re working and thinking more about what they need to get done. Geographical autonomy al so opens the organisation up to talent across the world, spurring innovation and diversity in the workforce as well as a spike in productivity.
The relationship between the employee and the business will evolve
An opportunity has arisen for organisations to create a much closer and more personalised relationship with every employee in the long term. Here’s why. In the office world, employees’ first and main point of contact was their manager. So it was down to managers to monitor engagement, satisfaction and productivity, and feed back to HR if anything was amiss.
That changed when the pandemic hit. It became the collective responsibility of HR teams, IT organisations, and line managers to check in on employees they could no longer physically see, whether that be to monitor wellbeing or check they had the right equipment to work from home.
Enlightened IT and HR teams used this unprecedented scenario to discover new ways to engage with employees via laptops, effectively deploying experience and sentiment analysis to respond to challenges as they faced them. This strategy will only mature further in the world of hybrid work, obviating the need for full-time office workers.
Employers will adopt a more outcome-based contract with the workforce
Traditionally, work contracts have specified core working hours as a stipulation for good work. But that sort of agreement didn’t work too well during the pandemic: parents had to care for young children around work, some had to care for older relatives, others experienced personal grief or mental health problems as the virus ravaged every nation. It was virtually impossible for work to continue as normal. Forward-thinking organisations quickly realised that it mattered not whether an employee’s status light stayed green, but that things got done. What we saw was a shift from presenteeism to objectivism.
“Objectivism” is a focus on what you want an employee to achieve, not how many hours they work. What does this mean in practice? That organisations can ensure all employees are working to a common goal, driving business success and know what they need to achieve around their responsibilities outside the workplace. It doesn’t matter what time of day work is done (with obvious exceptions), just that it is.
Reshaping our approach to device management
There’s no doubt that laptops will be the driving engine of long-term hybrid working and where meaningful experiences are created. It seems only logical, therefore, that we give them the same amount of thought and consideration as we give to physical office spaces. In the long term, organisations’ plans to move to hybrid working require a robust process for managing employees’ experiences so our people can be productive and engaged no matter where they are.
by Sumir Karayi, CEO and founder at 1E
For more information visit www.1E.com
The future home office is global
We used to have offices because we defined work within constraints of both time and place. We had set working hours and locations that shaped how we worked.
But in recent years tools have become available to enable us to work differently, and the concept of the office is rapidly becoming dated. Start-ups and innovators were already finding new paths, but it took Covid-19 to accelerate change more widely across the board.
So as we look forward to the end of lockdown, what will the office become? Will there be a permanent change in our concept of where, when and how work happens?
Where you are is less important than making things happen
Covid has taught people to work in a distributed way. And if you can work with your team anywhere, why not employ people globally? Distributed working makes national boundaries irrelevant, and legal and financial compliance is not the headache many fear. Adaptavist was founded in the UK, but now more than half of our people are based in other countries. We benefit from the best of global talent, diversity in thinking and a follow-the-sun operating model. There’s no reason this thinking can’t apply to knowledge-based business, leading ultimately to global campuses of home offices.
Working when you want makes time zones irrelevant
Say you worked nine-to-five in the UK because those were the company rules. This means you could never work with someone based in California because your day finished as theirs began. When you can work when you want, as long as the job gets done you can organise your time to get the best results for your tasks and your life.
Unlocking the workflow constraint
Digitally transformed businesses have cultures that allow them to adapt to threats and opportunities. Adaptive organisations do not need change to always come from the top down – ideas can come from anywhere when people can collaborate with each other. For this to happen, information needs to flow freely and across business functions. A DevOps approach to business will help organisations with continual experimentation and learning so they can adapt to thrive, whatever the future holds.
To find out more about agile business transformation visit www.adaptavist.com
It’s best for businesses if their people teams are free to evolve
The ways in which we work are changing, and the same can be said for people teams – more proactive and integrated arms of HR that aim to create happier employees and healthier businesses. For the future of HR to remain bright, their evolution is essential.
Consider team structures
It helps to think of team structures within context. After all, evolution truly occurs when you build a model to suit your company, and change it when circumstances demand. This could require teams built with an emphasis on hiring, relocation, onboarding or other factors, but it must be tailored. Strike the right balance between structuring and restructuring. Consider a year to 18 months at most to prevent “change weariness” in your team.
Form workplace teams
The pandemic has altered how we view the traditional office. People teams – indeed, any teams – have to think about how to adapt when not everyone is in one location.
For a company to scale successfully, teams and employees being able to successfully work together must be part of its culture. A workplace team focuses on end-to-end experiences for the best working environments, IT technology and tooling. Think of it as having a mix of IT, office management and property skillsets.
The workplace team concept can serve as a catalyst for HR evolution, because its role is to consider how teams need to evolve in the “new normal”.
Less administration, more expertise
Unnecessary volumes of admin work can often get in the way of potential, and the capacity of people teams to help attract, develop and retain top talent. That’s why implementing effective HR software is crucial, helping you make time and room for more strategic, data-driven and meaningful initiatives than can unlock your business’s productive potential.
The first step is finding a solution that not only digitises your processes but grows with your company and plays into its success.
by Ross Seychell, chief people officer at Personio, Europe’s most valuable HR tech company
Your employees will guide you on hybrid working – if you listen
When the pandemic struck in early 2020 and workplaces around the world emptied, the immediate conversation drifted to how to get employees back into their offices safely. But as it became clearer that this was not a short-term thing and homeworking was going to be the prominent feature for the foreseeable, the conversation has gently drifted to why employees would go back to their offices.
This debate seems to flit between a global tech firm announcing that they are “digital by default” (whatever that means) and stuffy financial institutions demanding employees report for duty in the office as soon as it’s deemed safe to do so. Everyone else is falling somewhere in between the two.
The risk is that organisations end up making the same mistake that has always been made when it comes to supporting work: ignoring the needs of their employees.
Outside of the occasional question on an employee engagement survey or a specialist survey as part of a workplace restack, how often do we take the time to get to understand how our people work and how we can best support them in that endeavour? All too often that conversation is infrequent and one-way.
Over the past 12 months, the team at the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) has been keen to see how employee attitudes to work are shifting through a series of surveys in spring and summer 2020, and again in spring this year. Any change would result in different approaches to how workplaces are managed and employee experience supported. The data has helped us map that evolving picture.
Firstly, there were some obvious bits, including people missing face-to-face interaction with colleagues (72 per cent), collaboration on work (61 per cent) and a clear separation between work and life (62 per cent). But there were lots of things we had started to enjoy when working from home, such as no commute (77 per cent), saving money travelling to work (67 per cent), more time for personal activities (53 per cent) and spending more time with family (37 per cent).
Balance that up against 75 per cent of people saying they can work from home effectively, and you’ll start to understand why there hasn’t been a stampede to return to overcrowded, salary-draining commutes.
But people do want something from their offices and many have said they are looking to do between three and four days in the office (42 per cent). Most of us would have guessed that, but what’s interesting is the shift this represents from pre-pandemic work patterns. Prior to Covid-19, two-thirds of people worked in the office five days a week; post-covid-19, that is looking to be less than one-third – a seismic change.
So that big concrete box we’ve been accustomed to trekking into day in, day out is likely to look a lot different in the future. Some days it will be very crowded (probably Tuesdays) and some days it will be ghostville (definitely Fridays). That is something organisations will have to wrestle with.
Getting to know their employees better and reviewing their own cultural approach to work will be crucial to help companies. Why? Because our data shows us that the choice to enjoy some of the aforementioned benefits of home working does not appear to be in everyone’s reach. For instance, women are twice as likely as men to say that they have no choice on their future work pattern. The data showed a link with childcare (underlining the persistence of “traditional” arrangements) and also that women with children only made up 20 per cent of those in senior positions in our study. Senior management in general were significantly more likely to be presented with a choice, just as they were more likely to have had money spent on them by their employer (for IT equipment and office furniture, for example) and to have spent money themselves while working from home.
Even with the right culture in place, some may have the choice taken away by their own home-working set-up, with those working on sofas much more likely to want to get back into the office.
The overall picture is that the only certainty is uncertainty and the best way to navigate that is to experiment, speak to your employees and build a workplace experience around them that extends beyond the corporate concrete block. It will be a mix of locations and you need to provide the glue to keep it all together. Don’t worry, your employees will guide you – but only if you listen.
Building a digital future of work with SD-WAN
The lockdowns in 2020 provided a worldwide case study on the benefits and drawbacks of working from home. For the past five years, futurists have claimed that the static office won’t last, but it’s taken global disruption to push businesses into making this a reality. And the challenges soon became evident.
For every productive parent working around the school run, there’s a fight for bandwidth on the home broadband. Over the past year, it’s estimated that more than 80 per cent of homeworkers have wasted at least 30 minutes a day due to poor connectivity. Multiply that by more than 200 employees and you’re talking a serious lack of productivity.
And for every reassurance in business continuity, there’s the worry of home Wi-Fi security. In the scramble to set up a remote working solution in reaction to COVID, people simply trusted the built-in security of consumer devices to protect sensitive data. This situation isn’t sustainable.
The future of office-based working is hybrid working, with people seamlessly accessing work applications in the office, on the train or at home. To achieve this, you need consistent, secure, high-speed connectivity. And that’s exactly what software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) provide. SD-WAN empowers IT teams to provide greater visibility and flexibility.
Traditional networks can’t transform at the same speed as today’s businesses grow and tech evolves. Businesses that have already moved to an SD-WAN have realised that their current bandwidth demands exceed traditional architectures.
SD-WAN gives greater visibility over the network and futureproofs the business to leverage emerging technologies. Whether that’s the speed of 5G or the data lakes provided by IoT devices, businesses need networks that deliver more intelligence. SD-WAN makes it possible to manage network traffic to ensure a high-quality user experience across all connections.
Digital transformation requires a solid foundation
An SD-WAN is the connective tissue that links devices to business applications through secure, high-speed connectivity. SD-WANs use software to control the connectivity between data centres, remote branches or cloud instances.
It also offers network admins a deeper understanding of what’s happening within each application and session in real-time. This allows businesses to maximise the use of available capacity, identify bottlenecks and react to network demands faster.
Building an environment for seamless working requires complete visibility over your connectivity, which is where platforms like Onecom’s OneCloud play a key role. They allow businesses to have full control of their data, cloud and connectivity, which serves as a foundation for seamless working, operational scalability and long-term success. In partnership with Vodafone, one of the leading SDN providers, OneCloud provides all the visibility and control powered by the latest in software-defined networking.
Security remains a key concern
Gartner predicts 40 per cent of boards will have a dedicated cybersecurity committee by 2025. This board-level organisational shift demonstrates the priority businesses put on cybersecurity. Not only did cybercrime increase during the pandemic, but remote working also presents new complications in identifying and reacting to security breaches. As we continue building a hybrid workplace, changes need to be made both in cyber and IT security policy, as well as IT infrastructure.
SD-WANs aren’t reinventing the wheel when it comes to VPN security. Secure encrypted tunnels remain the same from a technology deployment perspective.
But what an SD-WAN brings to security is the insight created from granular reporting. It allows you to see exactly what traffic is passing across the WAN, giving you better visibility. Combine this with the ability to deploy next-gen firewalls and DDOS protection and you can create an environment that’s naturally more secure, informative, robust and business driven.
Secure access service edge (SASE) is the next evolution of an SDN. It extends the capability of your business network to any end-user device, anywhere. This allows remote workers to benefit from all the performance and security they’re used to within the office, regardless of their device or location.
Ultimately, this means you don’t have to create new processes or standards for remote and hybrid operations. You have one set of rules and one network that is accessible by everyone.
The network is your digital enabler
By tying together on-premise, private and public cloud requirements with remote workers, SD-WAN allows admins to enforce compliance and security policies, maximise traffic to high-priority apps and manage a hybrid workforce easily and effectively. And businesses need this now more than ever.
Key enterprise applications, like unified communications, are richer and more sophisticated than ever. Based in the cloud and integrating resource-heavy video calling, these functions place a greater demand on network latency and bandwidth.
An SD-WAN provides clear and well-supported value to any organisation. From improved user experience to a reduction in OpEx, the impact is significant. Data is fast becoming the currency of the digital future and an SD-WAN offers businesses a means of seeing and controlling the flow of that asset.
by Andy Jane, Chief technology officer at Onecom
If you would like to learn more about SD-WAN, you can subscribe to our new webinar series, OneTALKS. In Onecom’s next OneTALKS webinar, we will be discussing ‘Becoming Future Ready with SD-WAN’ along with Vodafone’s Head of Connectivity Atul Rana.
Why cloud is king: the future of work depends on it
The pandemic has proven a strong catalyst for cloud adoption. Enforced lockdowns across the globe have forced organisations, big and small, to accelerate their digitalisation strategies at pace. Cloud technology has quickly emerged as the “holy grail” for homeworking and, as we consider the future of work, it is clear that cloud’s supremacy has become securely established.
Distributed working is here to stay
Distributed hybrid-working will become permanent, even in holdout industries such as contact centres, which previously stood defiantly as one of the last mill-style working environments.
All organisations will need to retain the agility of hybrid working in an uncertain future of changed expectations. In the contact centre, for example, it will no longer be enough to lash together tools and technologies every time operations are threatened with disruption – the tech needs to be already established in the cloud, with a workforce ready to roll in multiple locations.
Demand for distributed working to continue is coming from two directions: from workers who, having tasted freedom, refuse to resume the chains of daily commuting, and demand that employers continue to provide that flexibility, and from businesses which have learned that employee experience and customer experience are intrinsically linked.
Customer experience is a standout winner from the trials of the pandemic, having emerged as the primary differentiator between businesses.
The so-called ordinary workers are revolting. They want the benefits of flexible location and hours that were previously the preserve of the select few. That means cloud technology, enabling flexible shift patterns, better work-life harmony – and improved customer satisfaction.
Integration for collaboration
An effective distributed workforce requires a range of internal collaboration tools. An organisation’s external, consumer-facing communications tech needs to integrate with the internal-facing tools used around the wider organisation. Today’s cloud communications solutions integrate with the new office standards, Teams and Zoom, to promote a collaborative and informed workforce, wherever the individuals may be.
As innovation ramps up, and businesses future-proof their operations, cloud technology’s reign looks set to continue through 2021 and beyond – and the future of work depends on it.
Depop sale: fashion retailers must move faster on sustainability – or they will be replaced by Gen Z apps
The news that Depop – Generation Z’s favourite app for selling and buying used clothing – had been sold to Etsy for $1.6bn (£1.1bn) is a warning shot for fashion retailers.
For years, traditional retailers and “fast fashion” companies have moved too slowly on making their production more sustainable. Etsy’s acquisition of Depop shows that shoppers, led by an eco-conscious Generation Z, are taking things into their own hands, and it has commercial appeal.
Fashion for an eco-conscious cohort
The fashion industry has been slow to integrate sustainability practices into production and retailing, leaving a gap for disruptive new redistribution models to fulfil consumer preferences.
In 2020, new users of Depop increased by 163 per cent from the previous year, with a 200 per cent growth in traffic and a 300 per cent increase of sales. Its immense popularity is a reflection of the success of sustainable redistribution markets, particularly among younger users.
The rise of Depop and other consumer-to-consumer fashion redistribution platforms and apps (such as Vinted and Vestiaire Collective) illustrate the draw of the circular economy – making the most of resources already in circulation. This is especially appealing to younger consumers who are more concerned about sustainability, climate change and the future of the planet.
This generation has also been quick to adopt other sustainable life choices, such as vegan diets. In contrast to the fashion industry, food suppliers from grocery stores to KFC have responded to this demand with increased availability of plant-based food products.
Participation in the circular economy is an illustration of consumers adopting responsibility for post-consumption behaviours and actively creating opportunities for other consumers to adopt more sustainable fashion practices, with the added benefit of an income.
One benefit of Depop is the accessibility of the app. Generation Z are a cohort who have grown up with digital technology, and apps are a familiar space for socialising, sharing and accessing information and consumption. Additionally, the inability to visit the high street due to the Covid-19 pandemic forced most consumption online. As consumers have grown used to their fashion being delivered, there is no disadvantage in shopping through Depop.
While consumers may want to buy more sustainable clothing, there are many established barriers, such as higher pricing, lack of fashion appeal, lack of information and misunderstanding of sustainable fashion terminology.
Consumers are not prepared to sacrifice their sense of self and identity in the name of sustainability, especially as many shoppers do not understand how the fashion industry is unsustainable. Over-consumption is often a response to experiment with identity formation.
Depop gets around some of these barriers by creating a market where Gen Z are both the sellers and the buyers, so the fashion sold on the app is specifically appealing to them. This is an example of collaborative consumption, a system which includes a number of alternative practices to enable commodities to be used for longer and by a greater number of people. This may include redistribution markets, such as Depop, as a platform for exchanging used clothing, or renting and borrowing clothes, such as is found in a fashion library system.
Retailers must act fast
The fashion industry lags far behind on the sustainability trend. The low cost of fast fashion encourages mindless consumption, and shoppers have been vocal about calling this out – for example, the social media campaign against online retailer Pretty Little Thing for selling a dress for 8p in its sale.
So, what can brands do to address these concerns?
Although some brands include a sustainable range made from organic or recycled materials, this often consists of basic items such a vests, t-shirts and leggings as opposed to “high fashion” garments. These lines are greatly overshadowed by the accelerated production of fast fashion.
Many retailers address sustainability by encouraging consumers to dispose of unwanted garments by donation rather than address sustainability in production and retailing – which seems like an own goal.
Some retailers encourage consumers to return unwanted clothing to the store – in return for a voucher to purchase new fashion. The problem of climate change and scarce resources cannot be solved through more consumption. The used clothing market in the UK is not sufficiently buoyant to resell clothes donated to stores and charity shops, meaning much of this ends up in developing countries, or, in the event of Brexit border delays, stuck in warehouses.
It is somewhat remiss that the fashion industry is so out of touch with consumer trends. The Covid-19 pandemic has altered social systems and consumption practices, and solidified younger consumers’ sentiment for conscious consumption. This new chapter, combined with the success of Depop, presents brands with an opportunity to reconsider their business models.
One fashion retailer embracing this well is Cos, part of the H&M group, which enables consumers to buy and sell used Cos clothing online. And London department store Selfridges has opened a permanent “pre-loved” department.
Given the momentum of Generation Z’s preference for collaborative consumption, my colleagues and I are expanding our research to examine engagement on redistribution markets, via apps and physical events, as well as the potential for renting fashion. We will also examine whether younger consumers perceive a loss of authenticity in Depop being purchased by Etsy, as when L'Oreal bought the Body Shop. It will be interesting to see whether the change in ownership affects the commercial activities of Depop.
It is clear from Etsy’s purchase of Depop that there is commercial appeal for more sustainable fashion. As alternative digital platforms for fashion grow in popularity, the fashion industry needs to change – and fast – if it wants to stay relevant.
Square foot in a round hole? Why office space may need a new valuation model
It is widely accepted that the pandemic will forever change the way we think about work and what people expect of their employer.
Much is made of hybrid working but there are already signs that the future will be more than a binary choice between two desks. We believe that businesses will increasingly need to adopt a dynamic model – one that rewards people with the freedom and choice to operate at their best and be at their happiest.
Team meetings, creative problem solving, client presentations, one-to-ones, quality thinking time, content generation, relaxing and unwinding… each of these may be best performed in a different setting and in a different location depending on the personal and professional needs of the employee, the client or the team.
Traditionally, the cost of office space has been more or less calculated on the basis of price per square foot for conventional space, or per person per desk in the world of flexible offices. But in this evolving world of work, putting a price tag on physical office space will become more complex than just dividing x by y.
“While the conventional pricing model has served the real estate industry well, the pandemic has accelerated a shift in power – with the needs of employees becoming the primary focus,” says Charlie Green, co-founder and co-CEO of flexible workspace provider TOG (The Office Group). “We believe this demands a new value-based pricing model that incorporates a multitude of previously hard to measure factors.”
The increasing popularity of flexible office space has caused many to question the status quo because the cost-per-square-foot model that has underpinned conventional leases for decades does not translate well to the flexible office space market.
An occupier transitioning from a conventional to a flexible lease will typically see what appears to be a higher price for the same space, but this doesn’t capture the benefits of what the flex sector has to offer. It’s only when they factor in access to shared space and amenities and the costs associated with service charges and legal fees that the real value becomes apparent. And, of course, given the rapid changes in market conditions we’ve seen recently, not being locked into a five- or 10-year lease has a value in itself.
It could be said that buying space by the square foot or by the desk is like buying art by the yard – you know how much you’re getting but not a lot about the value. So the question is, what would a new value-based pricing model look like, what factors should be considered and how should they be weighted? Is there a new formula that captures the true value of office space?
“There needs to be a more enlightened way of assessing the value of working space – one that is tenant-centric and fit for purpose in the fast-emerging world of dynamic working,” said Olly Olsen, co-founder and co-CEO. “Being able to determine the importance of ‘hard to measure’ factors is at the heart of a new value-based pricing model.”
The pandemic has elevated the duty of care that employers have to their people. Almost every chief executive says that, alongside the battle for talent, the mental wellbeing of their people has become a top priority.
As the world of work continues to evolve, we believe employers will increasingly have to offer a choice of locations and amenities in order to attract and retain the best people and ensure they are happy, healthy and productive.
How do we go about assigning value to these ‘experience metrics’?
Companies such as Ocado, GSK and a slew of high-profile tech firms are already embracing the value of these seemingly intangible benefits. Even before the pandemic struck these businesses were looking to a future that offers much more than a binary choice between home and office. They have been working in partnerships with TOG to adapt their employer proposition, knowing only too well that when their people thrive, their business thrives too.
Recognising these benefits, energy giant bp has leased Douglas House, a 50,000 ft2 property in Fitzrovia that will provide a new hub for the company’s digital and mobility futures teams. The building is unbranded, allowing the client to incorporate its own identity into the workspace.
The hub will provide adaptable and digitally enabled spaces that allow teams to work flexibly or collaborate on site. As part of their membership, bp staff will also have access to the entire TOG platform, including coworking spaces, soundproofed focus and video conferencing booths, tech-enabled meeting rooms and collaboration and event spaces at locations across London and Germany.
The conversation about occupancy costs has already moved beyond the basics such as rent, fitout, service charges, insurance and maintenance. It now includes sick days and travel time, for example. The opportunity now is to consider factors such as natural light, air quality, outside space, meditation and wellness facilities, location and aesthetics. All of these have an impact on employee happiness, productivity and loyalty and so should become part of the value equation.
Employers already measure engagement and satisfaction, of course, but the idea of incorporating these and related metrics into the way office space is valued is long overdue.
Building such a model may not be as hard as it seems. In an increasingly data-rich world it may be possible to calculate with considerable accuracy the impact of employment practices and working environment on staff turnover, productivity and even creativity.
At TOG we are investing in research to help provide some of the solutions to a new office valuation model, but the picture is evolving constantly, and we will need input from a wide range of stakeholders. We look forward to continuing the discussion in the coming months at industry events and forums.
For more information, please visit our website.
Putting workers first: technology and the workplace of the future
A year of global pandemic has transformed many lives, both in the long and short term. With any complex change such as this, there are positive and negative factors at hand. As the pandemic has progressed, society has had the opportunity to learn and advance.
When restrictions were initially implemented a year ago, few could have predicted what the outcome would be. It is important to recognise what individuals have learned about working since social distancing became necessary, as well as how ready they were to digitalise daily tasks and trust a completely virtual environment. The urgency to adapt has altered our working habits at an unbelievable speed – and it is unlikely that anything can be done to reverse this.
Technology as an ally
Pre-pandemic, there was a lot of competition between technologies, particularly with artificial intelligence (AI)-based robotisation. The workplace has become increasingly shaped around humans, as opposed to the specific tasks those humans had to perform, as in the past. How technology affects and improves the experience is an essential part – offices are a combination of physical and virtual elements, integrated and seamless environments in which daily tasks are performed. The co-operation between humans and AIs is central to the new workplace concept, one that can take advantage of wearable and implantable devices.
The physical portion
For some jobs, the physical presence of employees is unavoidable. That said, the pandemic has proven that there are a huge number of roles which have transportable physical elements. Among these elements, the role of AI-based robots will become increasingly important. Human and robot co-operation enables employees to be technologically and psychologically supported during the working activity, and enhances effectiveness, efficiency and the digitalisation of tasks. The worker and the robot can be either located in the same place, or organised to cover the fixed physical portion of the workplace, according to the needs of the specific activity.
Connectivity is key
The most impactful element of the new workplace approach is the virtual domain. This enables vastly increased data-storage capability, five-sense-based interactions and augmented presence of co-workers and experts, thanks to cloud, hyper-connectivity and hologram technologies. Connectivity is a major enabler here, as it allows the integration between fixed physical, transportable physical and virtual components in a distributed workspace concept. It is based on the availability of broad coverage, low latency, high speed, capacity, security and reliable and flexible connectivity infrastructures. Software-defined paradigms are allies to both networking and storage and data centres in achieving this.
The new workplace approach puts humans at the core of each job by using the most advanced technologies to shape the workplace around the worker. This evolutionary pattern will create a workplace with improved flexibility, digitalisation, performance and efficiency of daily tasks, resulting in a society able to take full advantage of the continuous progress of both connectivity and robotisation technologies.
The article was written by Marina Ruggieri on behalf of IEEE
Introducing the Superagent – the future of customer support
The hurdles we’ve all had to clear during the global pandemic are gradually coming to an end. But while the shock for businesses has subsided, what’s interesting is the way it’s accelerated the deployment of online-only customer services.
Practically, this change has meant many businesses have invested even more in their web-based support functions, spinning up browser-based customer services where there previously were none. It’s hard to see them ever going back.
Many brands, however, were already making this move, and the necessity triggered by Covid-19 has accelerated this shift. At Upscope we’ve already been working with “online only” customer service teams for the past six years, so this comes as no surprise to us.
Things are far different to the call centres of the past. Long gone are the huge office buildings filled with rows and rows of desks, manned by stressed support operatives. In today's world, the above description couldn’t be further from the truth.
The modern-day support Superagent has a lot more responsibility than the customer support agents of old. Thanks to the influence of AI and automation, 'super agents' are only becoming more helpful and specialised than ever before.
What do superagents look like?
We’re quickly becoming used to chatbots and automated responses that have been deployed by businesses to tackle the majority of simple (and time-sapping) issues customers tend to call about. This means that the only issues which reach a human tend to be more specialised and nuanced, or require a more bespoke solution.
This change in job requirements has propelled the traditional role of the customer service operative or customer support agent upmarket – with the term “superagent” quickly becoming a more apt term for these new multi-skilled workers.
Superagents need a larger variety of technical product knowledge, and an understanding of the various options and solutions that can aid their customers. They are also not adverse to deploying sales skills, because in order to successfully solve their problem the customer may at times need to spend more money – upgrading to bigger software plans, or changing hardware for example.
A good example of what a superagent might look like is the Apple Genius – rebranded support workers who can solve problems and offer solutions, as well as delight customers and sell effectively.
The tools of the future
With the shift to online-only services, and the increased usage of AI and automation, superagents will soon become the norm. The tools these new workers will require will need to match their wider skillset.
Here at Upscope, we’re working on building a full-stack context machine which will allow superagents to understand customers' needs and problems fast. Our main tool, co-browsing, helps superagents see exactly what their customers see on their screen in just a few clicks. This is massively useful for onboarding new customers, troubleshooting issues, or helping customers make the right buying decisions.
However, to work effectively, superagents will need full-context data on the customer in front of them. They’ll need to know what the customer was doing right before they hit a roadblock or error, and they’ll need predictive algorithms which foresee the issues the customer may incur later down the line.
by Cameron James, Head of Marketing, Upscope
If you want to see how Upscope customers such as Square and Moo give their agents superpowers, click here.
The Klarna conundrum: why treating buy-now-pay-later apps like banks will not protect consumers
Whether you use Klarna all the time or have barely heard of it, it’s time to start paying attention: the buy-now-pay-later app has just become the biggest private fintech company in Europe. Klarna has completed a new round of fundraising, valuing it at US$46 billion (£33 billion). That’s four times what it was worth last September, and on a par with fellow Swedish tech giant Spotify.
Klarna offers interest-free credit on purchases with participating retailers, including Decathlon, Desigual, JD Sports and Oasis. It allows shoppers to delay payment, or split larger purchases into manageable sums, and does not perform traditional credit checks, opting for a more permissive “soft search”. Retailers cover the cost of the interest as if it was a sales discount.
Klarna operates in western Europe, Australia and the US, and has exploded in popularity during the pandemic. It claims to have 90 million customers, including 13 million in the UK, and has numerous rivals such as Clearpay/Afterpay, Affirm and Sezzle. Traditional retailers such as M&S and John Lewis are also reported to be looking at entering the fray.
Such offerings are controversial, however. Critics allege such schemes encourage overspending and can potentially ruin customers’ credit histories if they fail to keep up on payments. Many see parallels between these schemes and notorious “payday lenders” from years gone by such as Wonga.com.
Four in ten customers in the UK who have used these apps in the last 12 months are reportedly struggling to repay. A quarter of consumers reported that they regretted using these platforms, with many saying they cannot afford repayments or are spending more than they expected. Similarly, Comparethemarket.com reported earlier this year that one fifth of users couldn’t repay Christmas spending without taking on more debt.
In the UK, the concerns prompted a review published in February by Christopher Woolard, formerly of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). As a result, the FCA is now subjecting these operators to the same regulations as more traditional creditors, requiring things like affordability checks and making sure customers are treated fairly.
Some might argue that this solves the problem, but I disagree. Insights from behavioural psychology can shed light on this, and seemingly dusty debates from ancient Greek philosophy reveal why it’s wrong.
The psychological risks
Klarna claims to offer a “healthier, simpler and smarter alternative to credit cards”. It primarily targets millennials, with an average customer age of 33. Marketing material presents the app as the choice of the savvy shopper, with a clean wholesome aesthetic, reminiscent of a Scandi-style ad agency or hipster café menu.
By offering goods immediately, and delaying the pain of parting with any money, buy-now-pay-later lenders exploit the human tendency to undervalue future losses and overvalue present satisfaction – known as present bias. Research shows that this bias increases in response to instability and stress, raising the worry that such services disproportionately target consumers who are already vulnerable.
You could argue that credit cards also do this, but buy-now-pay-later lenders operate without hard credit checks, and go about this in an especially concerning manner. The service is offered at the online checkout, and often set by the retail partner as the default payment option. As Nobel prize-winning economists Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein argue in their influential book Nudge, altering defaults is particularly effective at changing behaviour.
Lenders primarily focus on consumer goods such as clothing and cosmetics, which are typically the subject of impulse buys. Focusing on products related to physical appearance, and targeting a particular age group, could shift social norms regarding consumption within the demographic, making higher value clothing items the norm. Once established, such norms are difficult to avoid.
These lenders also take advantage of “loss aversion” – the universal human tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains. They do this by promoting their services as a way for online shoppers to order multiple items and then return those they don’t like. Because of the bias, shoppers may not return products once they have them at home – even if that was their original intention.
Thank you, Aristotle
One might say these strategies manipulate customers. Yet one person’s manipulation is another’s persuasion, and all commercial businesses employ persuasive strategies to encourage customers to spend.
Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and his followers can help us draw a meaningful distinction between persuasion and manipulation. In a debate with the Sophists (specialists in the art of persuasion), the Aristotelians argued that the difference between manipulation and other persuasive strategies is that it bypasses or subverts the target’s rational capacities.
On that rationale, buy-now-pay-later apps are arguably manipulative as they rely on our irrational psychological biases. The concern is therefore less that they encourage us to spend, but how they do it. Some might argue that manipulation is everywhere, especially in advertising, but that doesn’t make it right. This is an ethical issue that simply classifying Klarna as a bank won’t solve.
What, then, is to be done? An outright ban would unfairly impact responsible users of the service. What is needed is regulation sensitive to the unique nature of these lenders, their service and the risks. It needs to include a duty to inform customers of the psychological biases that these services take advantage of (unwittingly or otherwise), to help consumers to make rational financial decisions. Apps would therefore need to point, for example, to the risks of consumers being tempted to keep more items once they have been bought, and the risks of default payment options.
Alongside this, we need a new professional body dedicated to overseeing this form of lending. It would need regulatory powers, and a commitment to act in the public interest enshrined in a code of conduct reflecting the unique ethical risks involved.